Interview: CHVRCHES


Tucked into the Union’s cluttered backstage area with an unassuming air, you would never guess that the synthpop trio were in the middle of their international tour following seemingly instant success with 2013 debut album The Bones of What You Believe. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry is quick to defend the hard work it’s taken to get this far: ‘For us, it doesn’t feel that instant because we’ve been touring quite hard for eighteen months, but we’re really pleasantly surprised by the response to the record and how supportive people have been thus far.’

‘People’ is an understatement; Chvrches’ success has exploded on an international scale. Having recently polished off a set to a hefty Coachella crowd, the band’s stateside profile is growing rapidly. Martin Doherty, on synths, voices his enthusiasm for the reception they’ve been getting across the pond: ‘It’ll be fun to go back to America. I think that’s where we had the strongest connection and the most recognition immediately.’ Chvrches won’t be abandoning their British roots anytime soon, though. ‘The UK is always gonna be important to us, to succeed here,’ added Martin. ‘It’s important to make the most of what you have in your home country, you know?’

It seems those home roots will be getting stronger in the future, in fact. Having recorded their debut record, released via Virgin Records, in Glasgow, Martin reveals that the group have no plans to move further afield for their next project. ‘Our plan is to go back to the same place that this all started, which is just a wee, dingy basement studio in the South side of Glasgow. We wouldn’t really change anything, apart from maybe having more synthesizers to play with! We’re all really comfortable there and it’s a familiar space; we know that it sounds good. There’s no need to spend loads of money going to LA or the Bahamas or whatever to record an album.’ (Nevertheless, approving murmurs ensue at the mention of sunnier climes.)

One of the band’s major assets is how deeply involved they are in the record-making process from start to finish; that craftsmanship surely explains why the public has latched on to the innovation that Chvrches brings to the electro scene. Synth, bass and guitar player Iain Cook explains where each of their strengths lie: ‘I think it’s a really interesting creative dynamic between the three of us; it’s unlike anything that I’ve ever been involved with before. Things happen in the studio; we don’t tend to bring ideas into the studio, we just kind of fire it off each other and roll with it. There’s a momentum and a dynamic that happens with us that is really refreshing, and it comes together really quickly. We all have a lot of cross-over skills. Martin and I came from a music production background, so I guess we were a bit more knowledgeable in that area, and Lauren’s really good with words and melody, so we get on pretty well as a creative team.’

It quickly becomes clear that having such solid authorship over their music is essential to the workings of the trio, and that extends to how they treat feedback from fans and critics. While their appreciation for those responses is unquestionable, Martin asserts that it doesn’t affect their approach to making a record. ‘That’s a very definite approach from us. We’re not in the business of making music based on the reactions of other people, you know; I think that’s a particularly cynical and negative way to approach a creative process. For me, as a listener, I can tell immediately when something comes on that has been made to order for a specific situation or for a specific audience, and to adhere to the fashion of the moment. That’s not what we’re about at all.’ Martin sees this approach becoming increasingly accessible with the means that so many of us have at our fingertips in the technological era: ‘Beyond anything else, I think that it’s a good time for people making the music that they want to make, because there are so many avenues that you can use to exploit your band. You can reach people a lot more easily now than you could even five years ago. I mean, we just keep doing what we’re doing. Don’t take your eye off the ball. It’s about concentrating on praise too much, isn’t it? Don’t be doing that.’

On top of their creativity, Chvrches aren’t afraid to speak out about issues in the music industry. Hit by misogynistic and sexually aggressive Facebook messages, Lauren tackled the influx in an article published last year by The Guardian. She explains the situation since then: ‘I think it was helpful for us to nail our colours to the mast, as it were, so that people know where we stand on things. We didn’t really do a properly controlled experiment, because we turned off the direct messages at the same time as we wrote the piece in the paper. I think it would be naïve to think that suddenly people are amazingly respectful, but by and large I would say that most of the people who follow our band are really great. They share interesting stuff with us and, for me, that’s the point of having an online community. It’s just a minority of people who ruin that for everybody. I guess at this juncture it’s just part of the job, but you can only call people on their bullshit as and when it comes up. I don’t really think that the better option is just to ignore it.’

It’s pretty contemptible that, in 2014, gender discrimination is still considered inevitable for female artists. With sexual exploitation in the music industry coming under fresh scrutiny in recent months with the likes of Miley Cyrus and Rihanna making questionable choices, is raising awareness the way to bring about a change once and for all? ‘I think so,’ considers Lauren. ‘I think it was refreshing that a more mainstream audience was discussing it towards the end of last year and start of this year. It’s hard to tell whether that’s actually gonna promote positive change, or whether it’s just a fad that everyone wants to discuss because it’s in the popular consciousness. There are a lot of minorities who aren’t represented effectively in music, and unfortunately not all get talked about. Hopefully people will come to have a more open and intelligent discussion about those issues.’

Speaking of biased representations, despite the success of Chvrches, they have yet to receive a nomination for the UK’s major music prizes. However, they have already been recognized by the Mercury Prize’s cheeky counterpart, the Popjustice Twenty Quid Prize, for best British pop single with ‘The Mother We Share’ in 2013. Martin laughs, calling it their ‘crowning achievement of last year’ despite never having seen the twenty quid (‘we had to hold up our own for the photo as we weren’t there to collect it!’). Joking aside, Lauren discussed her view of industry awards, giving preference to poll-voted accolades having come second in The Blog Sound of 2013 and fifth in the BBC Sound of 2013. ‘Obviously we’ve never been nominated for a Mercury so don’t know much about the voting structure, but I would say that the blog vote meant a lot to us because that’s the way this band started. People were writing about us on the internet and before we got to radio it was all blogs and social networks, people passing it around to their friends. Our band wouldn’t have got to do the things we’ve been doing so quickly, had it not been for that base level of support.’

With festival mania fast approaching, Chvrches have a busy season ahead, not least with the highly anticipated Glastonbury. Martin hesitantly fills us in: ‘Not all of them are public knowledge – that’d be a really good way to get us kicked off the bill! We’ll be at T in the Park in Scotland, and the most recent confirmation is Reading and Leeds, which we’re really looking forward to. We played there last year but we were on a tiny stage; it’s really nice of them to have us back. It’s a nice feeling to see your name on a poster in a print that you can actually read.’ Lauren laughs, ‘We’ve gone up a font size post-album.’

Once the fest hype is over, the band is keen to get underway with some new material. ‘Hopefully we’ll get to write later in the year,’ Lauren explains. ‘I guess right now we’re on the road an awful lot. We’re okay at finding time to record on the road, but writing is quite hard. You don’t get a huge amount of head space to do that. But hopefully things will be a bit more structured later in the year, when we get a few more breaks. We definitely want to start writing again ’cause that’s kind of where the band began; it was just writing without a view to playing live. It’d be interesting to get more of a balance between the two.’